I have the memories too, halcyon visions of childhood hockey on the pond, pickup baseball in the vacant lot, and of night skiing on the rope tow at the local hill. There are no paid coaches in these memories. There are no parent coaches either. No referees or helicoptering adults hollering. Only we kids, playing a sport for fun, working out pecking orders, busting through resentments, enforcing our own rules, keeping our own score. And while these memories are fond, they are completely useless when considering how to navigate the youth sports culture for my own children.
Because those days are gone. They don’t exist for my kids, at least not in the place where we live. The ponds do not freeze well enough in Salt Lake City, and the local ski hills are Snowbird and Alta (world-class to be sure, but a far cry from the tiny hill that the big kids “owned” and deigned to let the adults slip around on, if absolutely necessary). My kids rarely, if ever, play a sport without an adult present. Kids do not create the rules or keep score. If there is a skirmish, it’s promptly broken up, punishments doled out. Lectures ensue.
Sadly, as I compare sepia-toned pond hockey memories with the Halogen-lit realities of our neighborhood rink and youth hockey apparatus, there appear to be glaring shortcomings. The kids are in a process, a program, that is organized and efficient, but lacks the spontaneity and creativity that sometimes brought magic moments to childhood games. But hold on Norman Rockwell. Hard stop. Flip the switch. Let's shine a harsh light on dim sentimentality and take a clear look at the point of youth participation in sport. The reason to participate in sport is to learn to control our bodies and minds effectively. We learn to hone and care for the vessel that is taking us through this life, our bodies, even as we teach our minds the process of setting clear and challenging goals, defining specific tasks, and maintaining a positive focus to control negativity, fear, anger, doubt and distraction.
And as I hold these transparent goals of athletics up against the current tableaux of youth sport, I see that it may be more fully realized than ever. There are more trained people around to direct the process and there are clearer pathways. There's a consciousness present that guides development, often with wonderful results. Yeah, it’s more regimented, and less free-flowing than it was. Yeah, it’s more competitive and costly, but as a training ground for our children, especially in today’s highly regimented world, it just might be better than it ever was. However, these are just my musings. What do you think?